The Raleigh Rant
I wrote this article for the RUM-NC Chapter 14 years ago, and it still summarizes what I believe even though it is out-of-date since we now have federal laws allowing same-sex marriage.
What Becoming Reconciled Means to Me
Is it fair to ask a 70-year-old woman to question her beliefs about what she's been taught all her life? Is it right to upset her system or reasoning about morality and what's right and wrong. In an effort to right the wrong of generations of discrimination, we sometimes I fear are too condescending in considering the opinions and beliefs of those with whom with disagree.
Sometimes it seems to me that this whole controversy within the Methodist Church has become a political movement and a referendum on homosexuality. I don't want anyone to endorse my sexual orientation or even accept it. In a perfect world, it wouldn't even be an issue.
The Christian Church from the beginning has had difficulty in dealing with sexuality. The question of celibacy and enforced abstinence are not biblical but rather outgrowths of centuries of myths and traditions. To accept homosexuals openly within a church doesn't mean that you accept or overlook the differences. The idea of sex outside of traditional marriage is repellent to many Christians, and I don't intend to question or challenge their beliefs. On the other hand, I don't expect them to condemn me simply because I'm different from them.
The issue is that because of the condemnation of their sexual orientation, which cannot be changed, an entire class of people have been alienated and/or rejected by the church. We are admonished to go and preach the gospel to all the world, and that includes gays and lesbians, the majority of whom are not affiliated with any church --- for good reasons. To me, it is an issue of evangelism, not proselytizing for a cause.
Of course, many gays and lesbians have remained active in the church in spite of the hostile atmosphere and official condemnation. We're lumped together with drug addicts, alcoholics, and sex offenders as suffering from some physical or mental disease. Church people claim to love the sinner but hate their sin, and if only we would "reject our sin" then we could be accepted. Well, the American Psychological Association 31 years ago declared that same-sex orientation was not a deviant behavior nor abnormal --- just different than the majority. We've been a minority of the population since the beginning of time, and no one really knows why.
To become reconciled with one's self, one's identity, and one's sexuality is to become whole. To become a committed member of group is to declare one's self as a whole person and not a sham or to pretend to be we're something we're not. Conversely, when the group knows and understands us as complete persons then they can identify with us and welcome us to the group.
I think that promoting same sex unions and domestic partner benefits is threatening to many people and pushing the political agenda too hard. We have too many other unresolved issues to deal with first, such as non-discrimination in the workplace, housing, and legal standing. In many states we're still self-declared felons, and thus stripped of all rights by simple definition of belonging to a class of people, a clear violation of the Bill of Rights.
But the Methodist Church can never come to terms with this issue via legal wrangling or political maneuvering. It can only come to terms by realizing that the mission of evangelism is primary, and that the church is failing to reach millions of people who otherwise might be saved. To me, who I slept with last night is none of your business. I don't ask you, and I don't expect you to ask me, especially in church. On the other hand, if the Discipline condemns me and others like me unconditionally, then how can we be expected to be loyal to such a denomination?
Many small, older, dying inner city congregations have accepted gays and lesbians into their congregations as they have moved into the neighborhoods. In fact, they've been more openly accepted than people of color, because in other ways " they're such nice people." The Gospel doesn't ordain us to preach only to nice people or people of the same race. We are exhorted to reach out to all people, and that includes people of same-sex orientation. Let's get on with the mission of evangelism and quit quibbling about the dominance of liberal or conservative theological constructs. It's not the Methodist Church that needs to be saved from division. It's the millions of people who don't know the Christ and won't have the opportunity because of the rigidity of some church leaders.
What is Gay Pride?
Most major cities worldwide sponsor a parade, a street fair, or festival, etc. during June to celebrate Gay Pride. These events attract not only LGBT people and their allies but also even the curious who may be intrigued to see the show. Scantily clad folks and female impersonators have been standard barers (pardon the pun) for many years. But the events are more than just an excuse to party. The dates vary, depending upon the city, but the purpose is the same: to celebrate and demonstrate LGBT visibility to the community. We were invisible for so long, and that only resulted in more persecution.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court approved same-sex marriage two years ago (and most European nations even earlier,) LGBT people still face discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations in many states. The Obama Administration also promoted LGBT human rights with federal agencies and contractors, but the current administration and Congress are unlikely to even consider any legislation providing federal anti-discrimination protections.
Perhaps we became complacent because of advances we've made in recent decades after centuries of hatred and oppression, particularly by the church. We've gotten a wake-up call from Donald Trump that assault on LGBT people is OK and that states may opt-out of court orders by claiming religious freedom, i.e. freedom to discriminate based solely upon one's sexual orientation or gender identity. Transgender and people of color seem to be particularly vulnerable to outright hatred and bigotry.
Some heterosexual people ask why we have to "flaunt" our sexuality. But they do it every day by holding hands in public, putting photos of their spouses on their desks at work, and assuming that everyone is just like them. Although we may be a minority of the population, we are not unique in history and have been around for a long time and in all cultures and societies. Some were more repressive, and others were more tolerant.
The common thread has been the long-term condemnation by organized religions, not just Christianity. We were considered a threat to the established order, particularly among patriarchial societies. Expression of human sexuality for anything other than procreation was discouraged and considered unclean. It wasn't part of the natural order of things and certainly not an aspect of life to be enjoyed as a mutual expression of love. It was limited to a duty to preserve the human race, and that was it. The absolute rule of the majority prevailed, and any variation was condemned. Some Protestant denominations have softened their stance, but most are still fighting the so-called culture wars.
Self-acceptance and understanding are perhaps the foremost steps in achieving maturity and mental health. Because we were repressed and/or murdered for so long, we were accused of being mentally unstable. When anyone is treated as we were, it creates a deep anxiety and frustration. We have fought a long battle to become proud and accepting of who we are, regardless of the consequences.
We have the right to be proud.
For decades, all denominations of the Christian church have been pre-occupied with human sexuality: sexual orientation, gender identify, birth control, and abortion. Some denominations seem to focus on these issues to the exclusion of all other social issues. As I read the Bible, Jesus taught more about concerns for the poor and the downtrodden. Some who call themselves Christian, however, seem comfortable with throwing 23 million people off of access to medical care. I don't recall any righteous indignation about spending $110 million on a painting or $300,000 for a purse. The media portray it as cool even if it is outrageous.
When I was active with the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) 30 years ago, the buzzword was social responsibility. Corporations and other organizations not only existed to make a profit, they were to work with their local communities as citizens of those towns and not as dictators. CEO's did not have rubber-stamp boards of directors who approved obscenely high salaries or unlimited profit sharing options. They were paid well, but they also had a responsibility to serve the public welfare, their employees, and their shareholders. Now too many seem to be in business just to see how much money they can get for themselves and their cronies. That may seem like a too broad indictment of corporations, but that attitude seems to be rampant ¾ particularly in the financial services industry that doesn't actually produce anything other than to simply shuffle money around electronically. They're in it to game the system and not to provide resources or funds for other businesses and individuals like the old-fashioned banks used to do. They provided a valuable service of giving credit to those who needed it to build a business or buy a house.
Even the word welfare has assumed a negative connotation as though it only meant giving a hand-out. Some say that is the sole role of charitable organizations and not a function of government. When the economic structures of our society dislocate people who through no fault of their own lose jobs, then the government is the only entity that has the resources to help these people. A more reasonable definition might be "the public good." Henry Ford understood this. When he paid his workers a living wage, they were able to buy his cars and thus created a "virtuous circle." When many in the lower economic classes are struggling just to survive, they are not able to purchase anything but the bare necessities. Better wages would grow the economy, and economists have demonstrated that it would have a neutral effect on costs. Better trained, healthy and self-sufficient employees are more efficient, and the turn-over is lower. A 125 years ago the robber barons considered their employees to be expendable because there were monopolies and no unions. There always was someone willing to take the place of someone who was fired, and there was no recourse. That seems to be the attitude of some CEO's today. We'll just take our business elsewhere if you don't capitulate to our demands.
The United States is a nation of immigrants, and the President's family were immigrants. Yet we treat them as less than human. Our service industries, like restaurants and hotels, and farms could not survive without migrant workers. The distinction is made between those who enter via temporary permits and those who enter without a permit, that is illegally. Those who are hostile to immigrants see themselves as protecting law and order even though the mass deportations create chaos as well as untold human suffering. It's really a code word for racism.
The LGBT community is just one group of many minorities in this nation, and we must all bind together to defend our rights from those who would persecute us for their own gain or bigotry. I won't even go into the issue of race relations. That will have to be a topic in itself.
A Faith of Our Own
A few months ago, I downloaded the Kindle version of this 2012 book by Jonathan Merritt titled: A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Through the Culture Wars. A few weeks ago, I finally got down in my pile of unread books and started reading it. May was a busy month, and I kept getting interrupted by other priorities.
The author comes from a background very different from mine. He was raised in the Southern Baptist Church and is a graduate of Liberty University and personally knew Jerry Falwell. But he is of a younger generation of evangelicals who are revising their agenda to focus more on social issues rather than political ideology. To summarize his thesis: we are in danger when we politicize our religion. It is one thing for an individual to be active politically and engage in advocacy for certain issues in which he or she fervently believes in. It is another quantum leap when an entire denomination of a church endorses a specific candidate or political party as the Southern Baptists did for 30 years.
Critics of the book claim that he hems and haws on hot button issues such as LGBT rights, same-sex marriage, and abortion. I don't think that he is dodging those issues as much as he is trying to claim a priority for evangelism of the Gospel. When we are totally absorbed with social issues to the exclusion of spreading the Good News, then we're putting the cart before the horse. He doesn't equivocate in stating that he thinks that Jerry Falwell was wrong even though he believes that he was a good man with good intentions. I can't agree with that assessment. I think that Falwell got caught up in the glare of power and publicity that fed his ego so that he succumbed to the thrill of notoriety rather than focusing on the Gospel. I do agree that when we descend into name-calling and judging those with whom we disagree we are on dangerous ground. The church, however, must be called to account for the damage it has done (both literally and psychologically) to a very vulnerable population that has faced decades of discrimination. Words matter, and when you attack homosexuals from the pulpit (as a group) as Falwell did, then you must face the consequences of those actions.
Trump has unleashed a revival of the open hostility to LGBT people, immigrants, and people of color. Racism is implied in most of his tweets if not directly called for. We are under attack again, and we must defend ourselves. But we must not lower ourselves to the level of our opponents. We must take the higher road. Hateful or hurtful language has consequences no matter who uses them. We alienate potential allies when we question their motives.
As a young staff member of a large evangelical church in Atlanta, the author demonstrates the reality that the culture is changing, and the views on LGBT issues are very much a generational issue. Most young people, even those who have been raised in the church, just don't care or think that they are of primary theological importance. Of course, if you are LGBT, they assume a much higher priority because of the impact on you personally. Most people's views change when they get to know a LGBT person as opposed to talking about generalities of "the other."
I am actively engaged with a number of LGBT advocacy groups, including one within the United Methodist Church: The Reconciling Ministries Network. But I also try to be understanding and gracious in talking with someone who is not affirming. At 81, I sympathize with a person for whom the media focus on LGBT issues is bewildering. When I was a young adult, it was an issue you couldn't even mention. Our society has progressed on these issues, as well as many European nations, but we still face an uphill battle. Let's try to engage with love and grace rather than with hate or harsh words.
Heaven and Hell
I didn't post on the blog around Easter because of the death and/or disability of too many friends in the past year. The hope of Resurrection seemed weak in my heart, and I couldn't fake overcoming the depression. I believe strongly in the Holy Spirit, but I struggle with the theology of our bodily resurrection and the concept of heaven and hell as a physical place. God isn't "out there" someplace, even though there is a world of the spirit that exists parallel to our known universe of our senses. My years of Bible study have convinced me that we place too much emphasis on trying to define or demonstrate God in terms of personification That limits God and our understanding and our knowledge of the world. We claim we know all the facts because of science, and state that we can't prove (or disprove) the existence of God. That's a false assumption. We really don't know or understand the world or the mind, even with the advances in science. There is still just too much that we don't know,
I recently had a discussion with a friend who formerly was a Methodist but now has become an atheist. He said he changed the beliefs of his childhood because they didn't fit with what he understood to be scientific facts. He just didn't believe any of those Bible stories anymore. I conceded there are many things we don't know or understand about Jesus, including the nature of his divinity. Theologians have argued about it for centuries. Yes, there were many other iterant preachers in Palestine in the first century, and some of them also were crucified by the Romans. But the one question he couldn't answer was, why was Jesus the one who changed the world? What happened to his disciples after the Resurrection? They had been ignorant, weak, self-centered and misunderstood much of what he taught. Suddenly they were changed and became powerful, committed, and filled with a faith that eventually overturned Rome. The church became a driving force for good and for human rights and responsibility for others. Unfortunately, as the "church" assumed a more formal organizational structure, it also became susceptible to human weaknesses and mistakes.
The basic issue of the conflict between the church and the LGBT community is whether being gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender is a sin. If it is the only unforgivable sin, then we're going to hell. Most people hedge and dodge around the issue. The fundamentalists quote some of the 613 rules of the Old (Hebrew) Testament and a few quotations from the letters of Paul. They ignore the cultural context of the times in which the Jews were a small minority threatened on all sides. They had no separation of church and state so they developed what we would call civil laws and a health code that were appropriate for that century. It was a matter of survival. Even the 1st Century Jews had different beliefs about the afterlife as well as a preoccupation with procreation. Rob Bell has an interesting book and more detailed commentary about Heaven and Hell in Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
It is pointless to debate the scriptures. People simply interpret them in different ways so we end up with hundreds of denominations based upon deeply held beliefs and traditions that are only loosely related to the Bible. We have dozens of English translations from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. That's not even considering the translations into other modern languages. Most of these translations/commentaries were influenced by the cultures of the times in which they were written. For centuries slavery was an unresolved issue in the church with both sides claiming God as their champion. Although LGBT people have been around for centuries, we were hidden and repressed to conform to the cultural mores of the times.
The United Methodist Church is split on the issue of homosexuality, but many people and congregations are welcoming and ignore the official dogmas of the church. These marginal steps are not very satisfying to me. I'm tired of 40 years of bickering. I guess that it just will have to take another generation to resolve this gridlock. In the meantime, I'm not afraid of going to hell.
Romans 12:11-13 New International Version (NIV)
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.